Reading is the easy part

Index cards of my insights from books, movies, anything

I’m such a slow reader. Take Emerson’s essay on self reliance. That essay, which is about 20 pages long, took me about two years to read. Because each paragraph I’m like: “Whoa! I got to take that and see if I can apply that in life. See what the reverb of life is back to me if I’m looking through that lens. Which takes me a couple of months before I can read the next paragraph.”

Matthew McConoughey

I have this idea kicking around in my head that “I don’t read enough.”

This idea comes up when I hear about “big readers,” like this one who read 187 books in a year.

I think back to myself in 3rd grade. I read 40 books that year. School was painful, and I retreated into the world of books. I’ve never read as many books in any year since. Not even close.

It’s true that I really would like to read more.

But there’s another, more important truth: I don’t integrate enough.

I want my reading to make my life richer. If I consume, consume, consume, but don’t integrate, then I’m a hungry ghost, using the short-term dopamine hit of “learning something” to feel good for a moment.

“Intellectual stimulation” is an apt phrase. There is a short-lived pleasure that comes from noshing on a new idea. But true nourishment comes from digestion.

I want my reading to change me, to seep into my soul, to become part of who I am. That’s an alchemical process, and it happens slowly.

Take the quote on the index card above. I can read it a thousand times and still not be done with it.

Let me return to it, again:

What we care for, we grow to resemble. And what we resemble will hold us, when we are us no longer.

I see this as a quote about values, and how values are really the only thing that lasts.

When I first read The Overstory, I highlighted this quote. Then I wrote it in a letter to a friend. Then I wrote it on an index card for myself. Now I’m writing about it here.

By returning to the quote, again and again, I’m increasing the chance it will color my world.

I love what McConoughey did with Self Reliance. Sipping on an essay for two years…that’s something. It’s a counter-cultural act in a culture that loves to celebrate hitting metrics.

The integration isn’t easily summarized in a pithy metric. Getting a more positive “reverb of life” is a feeling, an alchemy, a transformation.

Put another way, words are fingers, integration is the moon.


I had a therapist who said that she distrusts anything that promises “quick results.” At the time, I was contemplating taking a 6-week, $6,000 self-development course.

I didn’t end up taking the course. I’m now working with meditation teachers who talk about “slow spirituality” as an analogy to the slow food movement. I do a weekly meditation, listen to a weekly dharma talk. There isn’t a promise of quick results.

An image comes to me: carving wood. Whittling. Sanding. Working slowly, and eventually creating something beautiful.

Here’s to slowing down the ingestion of ideas, which are so plentiful these days. And here’s to spending more time playing with them in our lives.

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